By the numbers

Kevin Ashley is a busy guy. He owns an electrical contracting company in Halifax, has a wife and child, and tries to stay in shape. He goes to the gym regularly and even has a personal trainer, but his work is demanding. Some days find him at the office doing paperwork and not moving around a whole lot. Other days, he’s in his vehicle going from job to job.
This hectic pace means he’s often on the run. And as every hungry and starved-for-time person knows, fast food sure is appealing in those situations. However, in the quest to stay healthy, Kevin has found an ally when he’s facing those circumstances: his Fitbit.
Fitbit makes wearable fitness devices and is one of many companies offering similar products, such as the Nike+FuelBand, the Misfit Shine and the Magellan Echo. These devices can measure things like the number of steps you take in a day and the distance you’ve travelled, how much sleep you’re getting and at what stage of sleep you’re in, your heart rate, the number of floors you’ve climbed in a day and how many calories you’re burning.
These devices sync with apps, so you can really exploit what they have to offer by inputting what you eat each day because it will determine how many calories you are consuming. That coupled with how many calories you are burning, will help show you if you’re on track to meet your fitness goals.
On those days where Kevin is thinking about getting fast food for lunch, the Fitbit gives him pause. “It’s just kind of like standing over your shoulder saying, ‘You’re tracking everything you’re eating, you’re tracking how much you’re walking, you probably shouldn’t eat that,’” he says.
And at night when he’s home having dinner and pondering whether to have another glass of wine or beer, he knows inputting the calories from those drinks into his app might throw his progress for the dayout the window. “It really hits home,” says Kevin.
Wearable fitness devices are kind of like a non-judgmental spouse. They just point out the facts and let you decide what to do. You can do what you want, there’s no pressure, I swear.
Kevin has had his device for about a year and he got it about one week after his wife Nicole Ashley got hers. She was particularly interested in tracking her water intake and steps on days when she wasn’t going to the gym or doing hot yoga.
The results were revealing. “I now know on days where I’m not drinking enough water I can feel the difference,” says Nicole. She feels more tired, her skin is drier, her mental alertness isn’t as good, and her “whole system doesn’t move along as well as it should.”
For Kevin, tracking his sleep has been very beneficial. “I just find it helps me be more disciplined to go to bed at a decent hour,” he says.
On days where he feels sluggish or groggy, his Fitbit confirms what he’s thinking: he’s either had too little or too much sleep.


The information wearable fitness devices are able to share with you isn’t necessarily revolutionary. What’s innovative is the ease they offer compared to what would have been done in years gone past to track this information.
Victoria Shupe is a personal trainer with Push Fitness in Halifax. She says in the days before the powerful digital technology we have today, people could have noted their exercise in a journal or calendar, wrote down what they ate and took their own heart rate. “These days, we would say, ‘Ah, that’s so annoying,” she says.
Shupe says one of the reasons wearable fitness devices are so popular because they give “instant gratification.” When users hit 10,000 steps for a day with their Fitbit, the device vibrates and displays a smiley face. You also get emails congratulating you on the different badges you’ve earned for achieving milestones. Shupe says these kinds of things help motivate people, even if they aren’t necessarily seeing the physical results of their exercise regimen yet. At least they know they’re being more active (and are being congratulated for it).
But you don’t have to shell out money for wearable fitness devices to take advantage of digital technology. Most phones have fitness apps that can track many of the things mentioned earlier in the story. As well, there are a countless number of apps out there to help you track and achieve your fitness goals.
Lindsay Uman lives in Bedford and she uses an app called Lose It, which allows users to track their food consumption and exercise, and aligns that information with their weight loss (or gain) goals. Uman’s been using Lose It on and off for about two years.
“I find it’s a good way to get me back on track,” she says. Uman just had her second child and uses the app along with two other friends that just had kids. The three do their weigh-ins on the same day and share the reports the app generates with each other. “It helps keep you accountable,” she says. This added step of sharing information with each other provides an additional measure of accountability.
For her, one of the biggest benefits of using Lose It is she’s developed a better understanding of how food choices early in
the day impact her consumption throughout the day. On days where she didn’t have much for breakfast, she is more likely to go over her calorie count for the day because she would eat a bigger dinner. As a result, she tries to start each day with a good breakfast.
According to a February 2015 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), by 2018, annual sales of these devices is projected to hit more than $50 billion US. However, the paper notes that in one survey with a sample size of 6,223 people, “more than half of individuals who purchased a wearable device stopped using it and, of these, one-third did so before six months.”
The paper argues smartphones may be the better option because people have them with themselves at most times and once people set up their info into the phones, the data can transmit passively.
Another study published by JAMA looked at the effectiveness of smartphone apps versus wearable fitness devices and found they’re equally accurate.
Ultimately, no device can make you fit. You and your willpower have to do that. But a device can give you a better chance to succeed. “You can’t argue with the data,” says Nicole.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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